Synthetic DNA: An Interview with Michael Kamdar, CEO Molecular Assemblies
Molecular Assemblies recently announced a $12.2M series A financing to advance their enzymatic DNA synthesis technology.
We talked to Michael Kamdar, the CEO and president of Molecular Assemblies, to discuss how enzymatic DNA synthesis could revolutionise biotechnology.
FLG: Can you introduce Molecular Assemblies?
MK: Molecular Assemblies is a synthetic biology company founded in 2013, and we focus on enzymatic DNA synthesis. We have 16 full-time employees at our labs in San Diego California, where we do all our protein engineering and organic chemistry in-house. We currently have 11 issued patents in the US, EU and Japan, so as far as we know, we are the leading owner of intellectual property in this space.
FLG: What are the advantages of enzymatic DNA synthesis?
MK: For the last 30 years, people have been making DNA chemically, which requires harsh solvents and waste disposal. The length of pure DNA that you can synthesize chemically is still fairly limited to around 100 nucleotides.
If you want to synthesize a DNA strand the same length of a gene, around 150kb, then you must make individual shorter strands and stitch them together. In doing so you get errors, you get yield loss and you get post synthetic processing costs. We believe that there is a better way to synthesize DNA using enzymes – the same way your body does. At Molecular Assemblies, we have developed a two-step DNA synthesis process. As it’s aqueous-based, it eliminates a lot of the issues with chemically synthesizing DNA. It also affords the opportunity, when optimised, to make longer pure DNA strands.
FLG: How can enzymatic DNA synthesis be applied in biotechnology?
MK: It’s conceivable, but not there yet, that you could get up to gene length in one attempt. And then two things happen; the first is that DNA production rapidly becomes more efficient for the synthetic biology market, which is currently worth around a billion dollars.
But it then also opens the door to new market opportunities for which long and pure DNA would be required. Firstly, opportunities exist in therapeutics including CRISPR-Cas 9, used to edit genes into organisms. In addition, we’ve also been approached by therapeutic vaccine makers who would like long DNA to put in the vaccines.
The technology can also be applied in the agricultural industry. We have had discussion with agriculture companies who say, ‘one day could you supply 30,000 genes? – We’d like to insert them into a plant genome to eradicate a disease and increase yield.’
FLG: How can enzymatic DNA synthesis be used for data storage?
MK: One of the other areas that has accelerated in the last couple of years is DNA data storage. Given that every cell in your body has your entire genomic code on it, if you can harness that, you’ll be able to store data. We are running out of server space with all the data that has been generated, so there’s a real push by the US government to optimise DNA data storage. The Pentagon said they wanted to store a certain percentage of data in DNA by 2028, out of fear that we would soon start losing historical data. So that area has really taken off.
If you think about it, computing is based on a binary code of 0s and 1s, and DNA is based on the four nucleotides A, C, T and G. Essentially we convert whatever message or data you want stored into the binary code of 0s and 1s using a proprietary algorithm and then convert the binary code into DNA bases. We proved this was possible last year when we took a simple text message and converted it into DNA bases, stored it and read it back out through a DNA synthesizer. We are pleased that the message that went in was the same as the messages that came out!
FLG: How will your new funding impact the company?
MK: It’s an exciting time for the company. The financing is led by the iSelect Fund, who invest in disruptive technologies for life sciences and agriculture. And then we have our existing investors; Agilent Technologies, Alexandria Venture Investments, and Keshif Ventures. We are pleased and think that the capital will allow us to do a few things; to first add human capital, and secondly, build in more automation to our process so things can happen quicker. This new influx of cash will, therefore, allow us to accelerate our development process.
We believe that with this financing we will get to a “commercializable” product. What I mean by that is, not necessarily having the complete commercial infrastructure, but having the development process fine-tuned to the extent that we can easily partner with other companies or advance our product(s) through licenses.